Swine fever scares Chinese hog industry

Shanghai Newspaper_Swine Influenza scares China

10,000 tonnes of frozen pork supplies from its strategic central reserves are set to be released due to the swine fever outbreak in China.

China, the world’s biggest producer and consumer of pork has struggled to control the spread of the disease. More than 1 million pigs have been slaughtered in Beijing in order to contain the incurable hog virus.

It was in 2009 when swine flu was initially seen in humans in Mexico. The strain of the particular virus was a mixture from 3 types of strains. Six of the genes are very similar to the H1N2 influenza virus that was found in pigs around 2000.

The virus is common throughout pig populations worldwide. Transmission of the virus from pigs to humans is not common and does not always lead to human flu, often resulting in the production of antibodies in the blood.

Direct contact between infected and uninfected animals is the main route of transmission which is particularly common during animal transport. Pigs raised in very close proximity to each other are more prone to the virus, thus intensive farming becomes a culprit too. The direct transfer of virus occurs by pigs touching their noses or through dried mucus. It can be transmitted through coughing or sneezing too.

The highly contagious disease is not dangerous to humans, but has hit China’s crucial pig-farming industry and driven up costs for consumers. If in case transmission causes human flu, it is called zoonotic swine flu. People with regular exposure to pigs are at increased risk of swine flu infection.

Prevention of swine influenza has three components: prevention in pigs, prevention of transmission to humans, and prevention of its spread among humans. Proper hand washing techniques can prevent the virus from spreading. Avoid touching the eyes, nose or mouth. Stay away from others who display symptoms of the cold or flu, and also avoid contact with others when displaying symptoms.

As a result, pork prices registered a 46.7% increment in August on a year earlier. In an effort to stabilize prices, an auction of imported frozen meats from Denmark, France, the US and UK will be organized. Only 300 tonnes will be sold to each bidder at the auction.

The auction comes timely as the country prepares to celebrate a week-long national holiday for the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China. The auction will likely provide breathing space for the industry but would’t have so much of an impact on prices unless the disease gets under control, tells senior China economist at Capital Economics, Julian Evans-Pritchard.

However Beijing created its strategic pork reserve in 2007 but the size of the stockpile is not known. Rough estimate serves four days’ worth of pork supplies to feed China per Capital Economics.

60% of the country’s meat consumption is pork, closing to 54 million tonnes of pork last year. With the country’s effort to halt the spread of swine fever since August last year, close to 1.2 million pigs have been culled in China.

An estimated 35% decrease in pork production was foresighted by Rabobank due to swine fever causing the pork prices to sore taking up majority of household incomes.

A new crisis has come to challenge the Chinese economy, alongside the trade war between Beijing and Washington.